Back in January, I examined the 2004 Hall of Fame ballot through the lens of Baseball Prospectus‘ Davenport Translated player cards. The idea was to establish a new set of sabermetric standards which could help us separate the Cooperstown wheat from the chaff, especially since Bill James’ Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor tools have reached their sell-by date. After all, the Hall has added 26 non-Negro League players since James last revised those tools in 1994’s The Politics of Glory, and we’ve learned a lot since then.
These new metrics enable us to identify candidates who are as good or better than the average Hall of Famer at their position. By promoting those players for election, we can avoid further diluting the quality of the Hall’s membership. Clay Davenport’s Translations make an ideal tool for this endeavor because they normalize all performance records in major-league history to the same scoring environment, adjusting for park effects, quality of competition and length of schedule. All pitchers, hitters and fielders are thus rated above or below one consistent replacement level, making cross-era comparisons a breeze. Though non-statistical considerations–awards, championships, postseason performance–shouldn’t be left by the wayside in weighing a player’s Hall of Fame case, they’re not the focus here.
Since election to the Hall of Fame requires a player to perform both at a very high level and for a long time, it’s inappropriate to rely simply on career Wins Above Replacement (WARP, which for this exercise refers exclusively to the adjusted-for-all-time version. WARP3). For this process I also identified each player’s peak value as determined by the player’s WARP in his best five consecutive seasons (with allowances made for seasons lost to war or injury). That choice is an admittedly arbitrary one; I simply selected a peak vaue that was relatively easy to calculate and that, at five years, represented a minimum of half the career of a Hall of Famer.
This oversimplification of career and peak into One Great Number isn’t meant to obscure the components which go into that figure, nor should it be taken as the end-all rating system for these players. We’re looking for patterns to help us determine whether a player belongs in the Hall or doesn’t and roughly where he fits. Though this piece is founded on the sabermetric credentials of Hall of Fame candidates, I’ve also taken the trouble to wrangle together traditional stat lines for each one, including All-Star (AS), MVP and Gold Glove (GG) awards as well as the hoary but somewhat useful Jamesian Hall of Fame Standards (HOFS) and Hall of Fame Monitor (HOFM) scores.
The career and peak WARP totals for each Hall of Famer and candidate on the ballot were tabulated and then averaged [(Career WARP + Peak WARP) / 2] to come up with a score which, because it’s a better acronym than what came before, I’ve very self-consciously christened JAWS (JAffe WARP Score). I then calculated positional JAWS averages and compared each candidate’s JAWS to those enshrined.
It should be noted that I simply followed the Hall’s own system of classifying a player by the position he appeared at the most. Thus, for example, Rod Carew is classified as a second baseman, and all of his numbers count towards establishing the standards at second, even though he spent the latter half of his career at first base. This is something of an inevitability within such a system, but the if the alternative is going nuts resolving the Paul Molitors and the Harmon Killebrews into fragmentary careers at numerous positions, we’ll never get anywhere.
By necessity I had to eliminate not only all Negro League-only electees, who have no major league stats, but also Satchel Paige and Monte Irvin, two great players whose presence in the Hall is largely based on their Negro League accomplishments. Other Negro Leaguers, such as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Larry Doby have been included. While their career totals are somewhat compromised by not having crossed the color line until relatively later in their careers, their peak values–especially Robinson’s–contribute positively to our understanding of the Hall’s standards.
Here are the positional averages, the standards, to which I’ll refer throughout the piece.
POS # BRAR BRAA FRAA WARP PEAK JAWS
C 13 406 197 61 94.8 41.3 68.1
1B 18 717 465 2 98.2 43.1 70.7
2B 16 558 255 70 99.0 41.9 70.4
3B 10 594 322 48 100.2 42.2 71.2
SS 20 411 136 77 100.5 43.2 71.9
LF 18 730 462 -8 103.8 42.8 73.3
CF 17 694 445 14 108.8 46.5 77.6
RF 22 754 482 33 110.2 43.3 76.8
CI 28 673 414 18 98.9 42.8 70.8
MI 36 476 189 74 99.8 42.6 71.2
IF 64 562 287 49 99.4 42.7 71.1
OF 57 729 465 15 107.8 44.1 75.9
Middle 66 519 257 56 101.1 43.3 72.2
Corners 68 714 449 16 103.9 42.9 73.4
Hitters 134 618 354 36 102.5 43.1 72.8
A quick breeze through the other abbreviations: BRAR is Batting Runs Above Replacement, BRAA is Batting Runs Above Average; both are included here because they make good secondary measures of career and peak value. FRAA is Fielding Runs Above Average, which is a bit less messy and more meaningful to the average reader than measuring from replacement level.
It’s worth noting that these figures have changed somewhat since the last time around, as Davenport has continued to revise his system–particularly the defensive elements–and adjust appropriately for the way the game has changed over 135 years of major-league history. Most notably, the spread between the average JAWS scores at various positions has been cut in half, which I interpret as a sign that the system’s biases have been reduced. So without further ado, we’ll move on to the 2005 Hall of Fame ballot.
We begin by evaluating a position that wasn’t represented on last year’s ballot.
H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM
Steinbach 1453 162 745 .271 .326 .420 3 0 0 25.0 47.0
EQA BRAR BRAA FRAA WARP3 PEAK JAWS
Steinbach .272 267 85 23 67.5 35.0 49.0
AVG HOF C 406 197 61 94.8 41.3 68.1
The 2003 ballot results corrected a long-standing injustice with the election of Gary Carter. Inexplicably, it took the Kid–one of those rare players most of us viewed as a Hall of Famer in the making during his fine career–six elections to gain enshrinement. Silly writers. Carter wasn’t just a borderline candidate, either; by the JAWS system, he rates #2 among all Hall catchers (86.0), behind only Johnny Bench (91.8) and a bit above Yogi Berra (84.7) and Carlton Fisk (84.4).
A solid backstop good for six or seven wins above replacement per year, Terry Steinbach is no Gary Carter. Best known as the A’s regular catcher during their 1988-1990 run atop the American League, Steinbach should not be confused with Gene Tenace, the sabermetric-darling catcher for an earlier A’s dynasty. Steinbach was a useful player, but nowhere near a Hall of Famer.
Two holdovers from past ballots are on the docket: Steve Garvey (24.3% last year) and Don Mattingly (12.85%).
H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM
Mattingly 2153 222 1099 .307 .358 .471 6 1 9 34.1 134.0
Garvey 2599 272 1308 .294 .329 .446 10 1 4 31.5 131.0
EQA BRAR BRAA FRAA WARP3 PEAK JAWS
Mattingly .301 610 384 64 86.4 46.7 66.6
Garvey .280 519 227 105 86.2 39.7 63.0
AVG HOF 1B 717 465 2 98.2 43.1 70.7
Keith Hernandez failed to garner the required five percent of the vote last year and dropped off the BBWAA ballot for good. Thanks to his fielding prowess and plate discipline, Hernandez was a sabermetrically superior player (97.2 WARP/42.0 PEAK/69.6 JAWS) to Mattingly and Garvey, who remain eligible. After years of wavering over him through my own analyses, the JAWS system led me to conclude that he was worthy of a vote, just in time to watch him flunk out. It’s tempting to blame the mustache, but the revised numbers here put him just below the standards, so perhaps it’s just as well.
Hernandez’s departure doesn’t bode well for Mattingly, the golden child of the Great Yankee Dark Age between the Billy Martin/Bob Lemon World Series teams and the Joe Torre ones. At his peak he was a fantastic hitter and a slick fielding first baseman, a perennial MVP candidate worth 9-10 WARP a year. Alas, back woes sapped him of his power, making him a very ordinary player outside of his 1984-87 peak and bringing his career to a premature end at age 34. He didn’t reach the postseason until his final season; a strong performance in a losing cause in the 1995 AL Division Series against Seattle provided a bittersweet coda to his career, and the Yanks’ success after he left tends to diminish his stature.
The matinee-idol star of my favorite team as a kid, Garvey put up some shiny numbers primarily in the context of a tough hitters’ park, Dodger Stadium. Basically, he did the things that impress voters, showing a clockwork ability to rap out 200 hits, hit .300 with 20 homers, drive in 100 runs, make the All-Star team, and have perfectly coiffed hair. He was great in the postseason (.338/.361/.550 with 11 HR and 31 RBI) while leading his teams to five World Series, won a good share of hardware, played in ten All-Star games and set the NL record for consecutive games played. Garvey was good for about 8 WARP a year at his peak. His counting stats are certainly better than Mattingly’s, but the big knocks against him are not getting on base enough (only a .329 OBP despite a .294 AVG) or hitting for enough power (.446 SLG, never topping .500). He’s not a popular candidate thanks in part to his post-retirement zipper problems.
Neither of these two are up to the Hall’s standards for first basemen as hitters, though they’re better than dubious Veterans Committee selections such as Frank Chance (45.6 JAWS), Jim Bottomley (49.8) and George Kelly (39.9). Where they get back into the race is with their glovework. Garvey is 105 runs above average with the leather; the best Hall first baseman in that regard is Bill Terry (96 FRAA), and Kelly (79) is the only other one ahead of Mattingly. Still, first basemen don’t get plaques because of their prowess with the leather; if they did, Hernandez (119, second all-time among first basemen to Pete O’Brien‘s 143) wouldn’t have dropped off the ballot.
While Mattingly and Garvey are both better than some of the many first basemen already enshrined, neither would improve the Hall’s standards; they’re not even as good as lukewarm 2000 electee Tony Perez (69.2 JAWS). The next decade or so will see better players such as Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas and Mark McGwire raise the standards. Perhaps jaded by the exploding offense levels of the past three decades, voters appear to understand that with regards to these two candidates; Garvey’s support has receded from a high of 42.6%, while Mattingly’s base has fallen from a high of 28.2%. That’s the right answer: a pass on both.
The lone true second basemen on this ballot is Ryne Sandberg, who last year leapfrogged past the magic 50 percent threshold by garnering 61.2 percent of the vote. Aside from three other current holdovers on the ballot and Gil Hodges, every candidate who has crossed the 50 percent rubicon has eventually been elected either via the BBWAA or the Veterans Committee.
In the context of second basemen, we’ll also examine the candidacy of multipositional wizard Tony Phillips, who played more games at second (783) than any other position and who debuts on the ballot this year.H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM Sandberg 2386 282 1061 .285 .344 .452 10 1 9 42.7 157.0 Phillips 2023 160 819 .266 .374 .389 0 0 0 32.7 26.5 EQA BRAR BRAA FRAA WARP3 PEAK JAWS Sandberg .282 528 246 91 108.5 49.2 78.9 Phillips .286 540 274 56 97.5 43.2 70.4 AVG HOF 2B 558 255 70 99.0 41.9 70.4 AVG HOF INF 562 287 49 99.4 42.7 71.1
An excellent all-around second baseman, Sandberg combined power, speed (344 steals in his career) and glovework. Like Garvey, he did a lot of the things which traditionally impress voters, scoring more than 100 runs seven times, driving in 100 twice, hitting 25 or more homers six times, swiping 30 bags five times (with a high of 54) and 20 another four times, and winning nine straight Gold Gloves. He helped the Chicago Cubs to two NL East flags, and hit well in the postseason (.385/.457/.641) in losing causes. He’s rated seventh all-time among second basemen in the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. Is there an argument that Sandberg doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame?
If there’s a case to be made against Sandberg, it starts with how Wrigley Field inflated his stats. Retrosheet’s home/road data, which covers the first 12 seasons of Sandberg’s career (80% of his total plate appearances), shows him with a .309/.370/.512 line at home, and only .270/.327/.410 away. We don’t have post-’92 data, and it’s worth noting that Wrigley became a less extreme hitters’ park in the last few years of Sandberg’s career, so it’s possible that split evened out a bit. He didn’t walk much, which kept his OBP down; five times in his 15 seasons it was below .330. A few monster years (10+ WARP) camouflage some mediocre ones, and he was done at 37 after coming back from a year-long retirement at 35. His Gold Gloves might overstate his defensive prowess, as those things usually are voted on reputation rather than data.
In last year’s iteration of the Davenport Cards, the Hall’s second basemen ranked first across the board in career and peak WARPs as well as JAWS, and not by a little. The revisions–which have corrected for the way defensive responsibilities have changed over time–have put their levels in line with the other positions. While Sandberg appeared to be a shade below the average Cooperstown second-sacker last year, he’s now solidly above that level by both career and peak measures. Were he elected, he would rank seventh among 17 Hall second basemen, with Charlie Gehringer and Rod Carew replacing the still-active Craig Biggio and the historically pivotal (but late-arriving and thus lower-scoring) Robinson from the list above. Even once Roberto Alomar (87.7 JAWS and counting… sort of) and Biggio (82.1) become eligible, Sandberg would place in the upper half of all Hall second basemen. He’s most definitely worth a spot on the ballot and a plaque in upstate New York.
Unheralded in his own time–no hardware, no All-Star appearances–Tony Phillips was a veritable Swiss Army knife of a player, a handy utilityman who played over 250 games at five different positions and often shifted around over the course of the season. Toss in keen plate discipline developed in his thirties (leading the league in walks twice, topping 100 four times) and the ability to reach double digits in homers and steals, and you’ve got a manager’s best friend and a sabermetric favorite.
Thanks to that .374 career OBP, Phillips has some very credible JAWS numbers. But whether he fits in anywhere is another matter. He’s right at the average for a second baseman, where he played more games than anywhere else, but he spent only about 35 percent of his time at that position (calculated using Adjusted Games at each position on the Davenport cards). He’s a bit below average when considered as a general infielder, which encompasses about 65 percent of his playing time, and he simply doesn’t measure up among the outfielders, though his case is stronger than many on this year’s ballot.
What he lacks, as well as the slam-dunk numbers that vault him above the standards, is the “fame.” It’s telling that Phillips didn’t receive a single honor during his career. Even with the type of numbers that make statheads drool, it’s tough to build a Hall of Fame case for a guy who was never even an All-Star, especially while more heralded stathead favorites such as Bobby Grich (114.8 WARP/49.8 PEAK/82.0 JAWS) and Lou Whitaker (118.0/39.6/78.8–virtually a dead heat with Sandberg) were bounced from the ballot prematurely. Phillips was underappreciated in his own time, but nonetheless he appears short of voteworthy.
Both shortstops on the ballot are holdovers who have garnered little support lately–Alan Trammell (13.8% in 2004) and Dave Concepcion (11.3% in 2004).
H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM
Trammell 2365 185 1003 .285 .352 .415 6 0 4 40.4 119.0
Concepcion 2326 101 950 .267 .322 .357 9 0 5 29.1 107.0
EQA BRAR BRAA FRAA WARP3 PEAK JAWS
Trammell .283 532 248 70 114.2 47.8 81.0
Concepcion .257 267 -36 163 98.4 41.6 70.0
AVG HOF SS 411 136 77 100.5 43.2 71.9
Trammell spent 20 seasons as a Detroit Tiger, 15 of them as their regular shortstop. Like his teammates on the 1984 championship team, Whitaker and Lance Parrish, Trammell doesn’t seem to have enough traction in the voting to get anywhere.
But he should. Trammell was similar to Sandberg in that he was a very solid hitter who more than held his own in the field and on the bases. Though the Ryno had more power, Trammell was better at getting on base. Like Sandberg, he combined some monster seasons with some fairly middling ones, but those monster seasons really drove his ballclub. He could have been the AL MVP in 1987, when he went .343/.402/.551 with 28 HR and 105 RBI, losing the vote to 47-HR outfielder George Bell. According to WARP, he was 3.3 wins better than Bell (12.3 to 9.0), but Wade Boggs (13.1, off of a .363/.461/.588 year with 24 HR and 108 RBI) topped them both. Trammell’s four Gold Gloves may be ill-gotten–he’s about seven runs above average per season in those years, and in the two seasons he beat out Cal Ripken, the Davenport numbers show Ripken more than 10 runs ahead.
Trammell’s JAWS is better than all but five of the 20 shortstops in the Hall of Fame, though the pending arrival of Ripken (109.7 JAWS, eligible for the Class of 2007) would take him down a peg. With the eventual Cooperstown arrivals of the Holy Trinity of Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter not so iron-clad as it seemed a few years ago, Trammell’s candidacy deserves a bit more sunlight. Perhaps overseeing a much-improved Tigers team will give him a nudge forward. He most definitely deserves the vote.
Concepcion was the shortstop for one of the greatest teams in history, the Big Red Machine, as they won five divisions, four pennants, and two World Series during the 1970s. He wasn’t much of a hitter (his career EQA of .257 is below average), although he wasn’t a total loss with the bat; at his best he put up a few .350 OBP/.410 SLG seasons. He was a defensive marvel, a sheer pleasure to watch, whose sabermetric stats back his case–over a ten-year span (1974-1983), he was 17 runs above average per year, and his FRAA is higher than all Hall shortstops except for Ozzie Smith. The flaw with Concepcion’s case is that his he’s about 100 runs behind the Wizard with both the bat and the glove, and that’s too much ground to make up. Concepcion was a key component of those Cincy teams, but he doesn’t belong in Cooperstown alongside the big Reds.
With the election of Paul Molitor, the sub-minimal showing of Terry Pendleton and the addition of Wade Boggs, the ballot has completely turned over at this position. But once again, we’ve got a player with a magic number of the kind that guarantees enshrinement.
H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM
Boggs 3010 118 1014 .328 .415 .443 12 0 2 57.5 267.0
EQA BRAR BRAA FRAA WARP3 PEAK JAWS
Boggs .313 925 637 93 144.4 61.6 103.0
AVG HOF 3B 594 322 48 100.2 42.2 71.2
Third basemen are the Hall’s redheaded stepchildren. Not only are they criminally underrepresented in the ranks of Cooperstown, with only ten enshrinees, but it’s quite apparent that the Hall doesn’t even have the right ten. Ron Santo (84.2), Darrell Evans (76.4), and Graig Nettles (71.4) all have JAWS scores above the position average, while the likes of George Kell (51.9) and Fred Lindstrom (41.8) rank among the Veterans Committee’s more egregious mistakes.
The impending election of Boggs will do more than that. At 103.0 JAWS, Boggs will take over the top score among Hall third basemen from Mike Schmidt (102.8). While this shouldn’t be taken as the definitive say on who’s the better player–any slight change in either Davenport’s methodology or mine might put the other in the lead–that’s still a hell of an accomplishment for a guy with 430 fewer career homers. Boggs topped 200 hits eight times and 100 runs seven times; he won five batting titles in a six-year span from 1983-88. He wasn’t a slugger, breaking into double-digits in homers just twice, with a high of 24 in 1987, when homers cost a dollar if you wore an onion on your belt (which was the style at the time). But he was a doubles-hitting machine, topping 40 eight times, with a high of 51.
Hits weren’t the only things that made Boggs great; there’s also the small matter of the walks. To his .328 career average, Boggs added a plate discipline that was almost otherworldly. In 1988, he walked 125 times and struck out 34, and he piled that on top of a .366 batting average and a .490 slugging percentage. In that same 1983-1988 span, he led the league in OBP five times; the one time he didn’t, he finished second with a .407 mark. How about this: Boggs led the league in times on base every single year from 1983 through 1990. Yeah, that’ll play.
Boggs never won an MVP award, but he should have won a raft of them. Consider:
AL Winner WARP3 Boggs
1984 Hernandez 8.7 10.1
1985 Mattingly 10.6 12.3
1986 Clemens 11.6 11.9
1987 Bell 9.0 13.1
1988 Canseco 12.0 12.6
1989 Yount 10.1 11.7
Over a six-year span, Boggs not only outperformed the AL MVP every time, he did so by an average of 1.6 wins a year. Yet at a time when he had a solid claim on being the best player in the league, he never finished higher than fourth in the voting, even on a team that went to the playoffs twice in that span. That’s Rodney Dangerfield territory, but no matter; Boggs should get his due in January. He’s not just a Hall of Famer, he’s another one of those inner-circle types. And he threw a pretty good knuckleball, too.
Eight outfielders are on the ballot this year: four holdovers and four newcomers. Two of the holdovers, Jim Rice (54.6 percent) and Andre Dawson (50 on the nose), were on more than half the ballots last year. The other two, Dave Parker (10.5 percent) and Dale Murphy (8.5 percent) are in the danger zone for slipping off the ballot. Of the four newcomers, Darryl Strawberry is the marquee name, while Chili Davis, Willie McGee and Otis Nixon are just passin’ through.
H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM
Dawson 2774 438 1591 .279 .323 .482 8 1 8 43.7 117.5
Murphy 2111 398 1266 .265 .346 .469 7 2 5 34.3 115.5
Rice 2452 382 1451 .298 .352 .502 7 1 0 42.9 147.0
Parker 2712 339 1493 .290 .339 .471 7 1 3 41.1 125.5
Davis 2380 350 1372 .274 .360 .451 3 0 0 38.0 29.0
McGee 2254 79 856 .295 .333 .396 4 1 3 22.9 77.5
Nixon 1379 11 318 .270 .343 .318 0 0 0 15.1 2.5
Strawberry 1401 335 1000 .259 .357 .505 8 0 0 29.6 56.5
EQA BRAR BRAA FRAA WARP3 PEAK JAWS
Dawson .284 652 315 6 101.8 40.0 70.9
Murphy .287 557 285 -10 88.0 46.4 67.2
Rice .295 645 376 15 89.2 37.4 63.3
Parker .285 613 302 -35 80.4 39.9 60.2
Davis .293 685 389 -37 86.9 27.9 57.4
McGee .270 348 93 5 64.7 30.5 47.6
Nixon .258 171 -11 23 41.4 21.9 31.7
Strawberry .306 549 359 -25 69.4 37.6 53.5
AVG HOF LF 730 462 -8 103.8 42.8 73.3
AVG HOF CF 694 445 14 108.8 46.5 77.6
AVG HOF RF 754 482 33 110.2 43.3 76.8
AVG HOF OF 729 465 15 107.8 44.1 75.9
While this group of players won their share of accolades–a total of six MVPs and 19 Gold Gloves among them–none of that acclaim went to Nixon. A speed demon with little power, Nixon nonetheless had his uses as a switch-hitter who could bunt for a base hit, work a walk (one every 9.9 PA), and of course, steal a base–620 for his career, good for 15th all-time–at a nice 77 percent clip. He won’t last long on the Hall of Fame ballot, and by the look of things he has much bigger problems anyway.
Like Nixon, McGee was a switch-hitting speedster and a former Yankee #1 pick. He’s best remembered as a key component at the top of the lineup for Whitey Herzog’s go-go Cardinals, three-time pennant winners in the ’80s. He won an MVP award for a stellar 1985 campaign in which he hit .353/.384/.503, rapped out 216 hits (including 18 triples) and stole 56 bases for the NL champs. Notice how little of that on-base percentage was driven by walks, however. A lack of patience at the plate was McGee’s major flaw; he walked just once every 18.3 plate appearances and got on base just one-third of the time. It’s telling that he topped 100 runs only in that MVP season. Rickey Henderson he was not; heck, he’d have gotten a lot further with Otis Nixon’s plate discipline. He doesn’t have much of a Hall case. His low OBP and lack of power simply keep his value down, and his good years are too spread out to give the appearance of a strong peak.
Charles Theodore Davis arrived in the major leagues in 1982 with one of the game’s more endearing nicknames, “Chili.” He came up as a switch-hitting centerfielder for the Giants in 1982, enjoyed some solid seasons for them, then migrated to the Angels and then to the Twins, where he won a ring in 1991 as the team’s powerful DH. Never a particularly good defender despite his speed, he was liberated by the move to DH and became one of those “professional hitter” types that announcers and writers love to talk about. Ultimately, spending the better part of a decade as a full-time DH removes him from the realm of a serious Hall case. In his prime as a hitter, he was only about six wins above replacement a year, and his early years just don’t add up to enough to overcome that.
If there were a Hall of Shoulda Coulda Woulda, Darryl Strawberry wouldn’t just have a plaque, he’d have an entire wing. The 1983 NL Rookie of the Year was on an immortal’s track through 1988 hefore alcohol problems contributed to a comparatively dismal 1989 season (.225/.312/.466, albeit with 29 homers). Strawberry bounced back with strong 1990 and ’91 seasons, the latter his first with the Dodgers, before the wheels came off. Back problems, more domestic violence, tax evasion, failure to pay child support, cocaine, cocaine, and more cocaine all prevented him from reaching 300 at-bats in any of the last eight years of his career.
Even if he drew a pass for his repeated substance problems and other shortcomings, Strawberry has no real case for the Hall of Fame despite his 335 homers. He was at 62.7 Wins Above Replacement through 1991, a solid but not exceptional pace for Cooperstown; despite those homers, only three times did he put up a WARP3 higher than 7.0, largely due to injuries. His peak of 37.6 WARP is a lot lower than one would expect, but again, those injuries prevented him from stringing together five consecutive good seasons. That wouldn’t have stopped him from making a case, but managing only 8.2 WARP over the next eight years certainly did. Darryl Strawberry won’t make the Hall of Fame, but his name will continue to be invoked as a bittersweet, cautionary tale for a long, long time.
The remaining four heavy hitters were almost exact contemporaries who at one point or another during their careers, looked like locks for the Hall of Fame. They won awards and honors by the truckload, and hit homers–lots and lots of homers.
Andre Dawson had an exceptional combination of power and speed. As an Expo, he was a Gold Glove center fielder who shifted to right after the Olympic Stadium turf took its toll on his knees. He left as a free agent following the 1986 season, and made a huge splash in his first year with the Cubs, hitting 49 homers, driving in 137 runs, and winning dubious MVP honors while playing for a last-place club, the first player to do so. He was arguably not among the top eight players in the NL that year, his raw totals inflated by Wrigley Field. For his career, the park effects were more even; Retrosheet data from 1976-1992 (which includes all of his time as an Expo and a Cub) shows him at .280/.332/.483 with 189 HR at home, .283/.320/.492 with 210 HR on the road. His Gold Gloves are largely unearned; he was just 12 runs above average in center for his career, and four below in right field.
Parker was a Gold Glove right fielder who for a time was thought of as the best player in the game. Powerful and possessing a cannon for an arm, he was in the spotlight often in the late ’70s and early ’80s via All-Star Game heroics and a World Series title. Cocaine problems cost him some productive seasons in the middle of his career, but he rebounded with a couple of solid years in Cincinnati and then a few OK seasons as a DH. His defensive prowess was overstated; he’s 33 runs below average in right field for his career, helped by one fluky 26-assist season that gave him his reputation.
Murphy was a converted catcher who became a Gold Glove center fielder and two-time MVP. At his peak he was considerably more valuable than Dawson thanks to his plate discipline, but he got lots of help from his home park. Retrosheet data for all but his disappointing coda in Colorado shows him at .282/.368/.501 with 217 HR at home, .250/.325/.441 with 181 HR on the road. Like Dawson again, his defensive reputation was considerably overstated, as he won those Gold Gloves with negative FRAAs in 1985 and ’86. His career fell off the table after he turned 32, and he was done at 37, a mere two homers from reaching 400.
Rice was thought of as the premier slugger in the AL from the late ’70s into the mid-’80s, putting up some monster seasons for the Red Sox. Besides winning the MVP award in 1978, he placed in the top five in balloting six times. He racked up 406 total bases in ’78, which was the most in a 50-year span from 1949-1998. Like Murphy, he got a big boost from his park; Retrosheet shows him hitting .320/.374/.546 with 208 homers in Fenway, .277/.330/.459 with 174 HR on the road. Again like Murphy, his career fell off the table in his early 30s–he was a shadow of himself once he turned 34, and was done at 36. Despite his outstanding 1978, his five-year peak was pretty low; he surrounded his 1977-79 seasons, in which he was 26.2 wins above replacement combined, with four ordinary ones, 4.0-6.0, such that it’s his mid-career resurgence (1982-1986) which scores better. Another surprise: while he was thought of as mediocre defensively, his FRAA numbers are actually better than his ballot cohorts, 17 runs above average in left field.
Each of the candidates in this quartet have their merits when it comes to the Hall, and none would be anywhere near the worst at his position if he were elected. They were some of the brightest stars of their time, but their resumes are considerably inflated, and they’re all missing something. Sportswriters might lament the passing of a time when 35-40 homers could lead the league, but none of these four had the plate discipline of today’s best sluggers, they all had some help from their parks, and their defensive reputations were overblown. Rice, Parker and Murphy have gaps in their resume that cost them a few years of their careers; Parker perhaps the most because his came mid-career rather than late. In one way or another, advanced metrics take the wind out of the sails of their candidacies. The Davenport numbers show that none of these four have the career value of the average Hall of Fame outfielder (off by 6 to 27 career WARP), and only Murphy has the peak value of one. Good players overall, but the Hall would do just fine without them.
So at the conclusion of evaluating these hitters, we’re left with three men worthy of a spot on the Hall of Fame ballot, all of them infielders: Ryne Sandberg, Alan Trammell and Wade Boggs. Boggs is a lock, and another surge might put Sandberg over the top. Trammell would do well to double his vote total into the 25-30 percent range so as to keep him on the ballot long enough for voters to warm to his case.
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